In my 4th grade class, one of our assignments was to pick a student to exchange interview questions and then present their answers to the class. The point of the exercise was to learn a little more about our classmates and generally make us care, at least the tiniest bit, about someone other than ourselves.
I interviewed a kid, and all was going well. That is, until we got to the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I sort of expected this kid to respond with what most 4th grade students want to be: A baseball player, a business owner, a rocket scientist. I suppose that’s what 4th graders want to be when they grow up, right?
Well, not this kid!
I’ll never forget his response: “Well, I plan to be the president“.
It wasn’t a joke. He kept a straight face during it all and spilled out that lofty goal with the mundane precision of, well, most presidents. I don’t quite remember my reaction, but it was probably something like, “Oh, okay”.
Little did I know at the time, but I’d remember that conversation for the rest of my life and, strangely enough, write a blog post about it decades later. Thanks, kid-who’s-name-I-don’t-remember, for the memories!
Why does his answer stick with me like white on rice?
We never want to be the Vice President
Not many of us aspire to be anything but the best. How many have ever said they’d love to be the Vice President rather than President? Or the second best player on the team rather than the first? I’m sure you get the idea.
The older we get, the more we realize that many of those loft expectations probably won’t come true. But, it sure as hell was nice to think about them as a kid, wasn’t it? I’m sure he thought, honest to God, that he’d become the President of the United States one day (he hasn’t). How incredible!
I think what really made this statement stick in my head was the words he used. He didn’t say that he “wants” to be the President. No, he plans on it. My plans when I was in 4th grade? Getting home from school fast enough to jump into pick up basketball games (which generally worked). His plans?
To be the President.
Reminiscing on this the other day got me thinking about early retirement. I’d bet my bottom dollar (which I guard very aggressively, by the way), that not a single 4th grader has ever said that they want to retire early. Naturally, 4th graders don’t care about retirement. In fact, they probably don’t care about careers at that point, either. “What do you mean by 9 to 5?”
That’s a good thing, by the way. Kids should be kids. Careers are for later.
Out of sight, out of mind. I get it.
But, I think that we “adults” have something to learn from the bright-eyed-bushy-tailed perspective of our kids. The perspective where anything is possible, including early retirement. Don’t settle for Vice President. Aim for the best (though don’t get caught up in perfection) and then get as close as you can to the best. Like I wrote about this week, just believe.
Believing is powerful. It forces your mind to lead you to success.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
“I want to retire early!” – said no 4th grader ever.
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Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.